Last Night's TV: Heroes, BBC2
The Baron, ITV1
Friday 25 April 2008
There aren't many stories that wouldn't be improved by the addition of a few superpowers, preferably in conjunction with skin-tight costumes and masks, but I'm not going to be dogmatic about that. All that "from his mother's womb untimely ripped" nonsense at the end of Macbeth, for example: much more satisfying for Macduff to pull out a hunk of green kryptonite, thereby depriving Macbeth of the super-strength and invulnerability that have got him where he is. Wouldn't it be a breath of fresh air if Mr Darcy disclosed that the reason he's been acting so cold is that he had to protect his secret identity, and was wary of Elizabeth Bennet cottoning on to the fact that he has the proportionate strength and agility of a genetically modified spider? And there isn't a single short story by Raymond Carver that doesn't scream for the presence of a band of costumed mutant vigilantes, preferably ones who've been trained in a lost oriental martial art.
Heroes, though: Heroes sometimes feels a mite cluttered, superpower-wise. Returning viewers may recall that some winnowing seemed to have gone on at the end of the last series, when sensitive, brown-eyed Peter Petrelli (secret power: can copy everyone else's powers) inadvertently turned himself into a human atomic bomb and then went off, apparently taking his smoothie-chops brother Nathan (secret power: flying) with him. But nothing is ever that clear-cut in the world of superheroes. When you've stripped them of their powers, dropped a building on their heads or sent them hurtling into the heart of the sun, following it up with a full-page illustration of their headstone complete with roses wilting atop a mound of fresh earth, that's when they're at their most dangerous.
The new season had barely started when Nathan turned up; but this is a new, sadder and possibly wiser Nathan – you can tell because he now hangs around in bars with a really bushy beard. Which is, I ought to clarify, attached to his face. So, what, we're supposed to believe that a small thing such as blowing up in a cloud of radioactivity would hurt Peter? Sure enough, there he was, chained up half-naked in a freight container in Cork, surrounded by mean-looking men with rubbish Irish accents; they suspected him of having made off with a cargo of iPods they were planning to half-inch, returning to the scene of the crime to chain himself up and feign amnesia. The whole superpower bit is by no means the least plausible part of Heroes.
Meanwhile, Claire, the cheerleader (secret power: regenerates after any injury), has gone into hiding with her family in California. Dad Noah (secret power: can say lines such as "I love you more than anything in the world, Claire-bear" without puking) is working as assistant manager at a copy-store, which, by the way, looks like a pretty sweet deal, what with the big house and the big car it's paying for, and plotting against the evil, superhero-enslaving Company. Mohinder, the earnest doctor (secret power: ability to intone appallingly sententious voice-over), is roaming the country lecturing on superpowers, and fending off the attentions of a nerdy Company rep (secret power: can turn teaspoons into gold, which makes you wonder why he needs a job with the evil guys). Nice Matt, the copper (secret power: reads minds), is retraining with the New York police, and caring for little Molly (secret power: can find people with superpowers). Everybody's favourite character, Hiro (secret power: can bend the space-time continuum), has accidentally transported himself to 17th-century Japan, where he met his samurai hero, Takezo Kensei, who turned out, blow me down, to be an unheroic Englishman. Back in the present, Hiro's father (secret identity: Mr Sulu from Star Trek), and Nathan's mother (secret power: is a real bitch) are receiving death threats...
This is, by any standards, enough to be going on with. But no, we also have to follow the panic-filled, faintly incestuous relationship of mysterious Latin American twins Alejandro and Maya (secret power – look away now if you didn't cheat and watch episode two on digital: bleeding from eyes while those in vicinity keel over dead). Somebody out there has the secret power of being able to generate limitless numbers of ludicrous plotlines, and they've forgotten the great lesson taught us by The Amazing Spider-Man many years ago: with great power comes great responsibility. But who am I kidding? I'll be watching it again next week.
After this profusion of stories, The Baron has an appealing high-concept simplicity: celebrities woo a village for votes to win the genuine hereditary title of Baron of Troup. The complication is that the best they can do in the way of celebs is Suzanne Shaw, a veteran of ITV talent contests, Mike "Frank Butcher" Reid (whose death last summer led to the series being shelved), and the punk Svengali Malcolm McLaren – all a disappointment to the villagers of Gardenstown in north-east Scotland, who were thinking in terms of Sean Connery, and who are an unusually devout set of people. It is silly and exploitative in several ways, but Malcolm McLaren being told by his hosts how much joy it would give them to see him accept the Lord Jesus in his heart: you cannot put a price on a sight such as that.
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